Daks Over Normandy
Prestwick Airport 2019
This year marked the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, the 6th of June 1944 being unquestionably one of the most important dates in modern history. This was when almost 160.000 Allied troops stormed the Normandy beaches to start the liberation of Western-Europe. The amphibious assault was preceded by 24.000 troops who parachuted in or landed by glider. Forming the core of the airborne armada was a fleet of over 800 Douglas C-47 Skytrains, known as Dakotas to the British. These winged workhorses carried the bulk of the Allied paratroopers and their follow-on support units across the English Channel to help breach Hitler`s Atlantic Wall. To commemorate the occasion and honour those who took part, many of whom made the ultimate sacrifice in the quest to liberate Europe, from 2 to 9 June 2019 Daks Over Normandy will see over thirty DC-3/C-47’s come together which will be the largest gathering of the type since the Second World War.
Their owners and operators will have flown them in from all over the Globe. From Scandinavia, The Netherlands and the rest of Europe, and the United States and even from as far away as Australia. They, along with hundreds of Paratroopers will assemble at Caen-Carpiquet Airport in Normandy, and remain there from 5 to 9 June where they will be joined by warbirds and military reenactors for a series of commemorations and displays over the D-Day beaches and drop zones.
As England was the springboard for the Invasion including the airborne assault, the North American contingent will join their UK and mainland Europe-based counterparts at Duxford on June 2 where the crews will be briefed and rehearse for the flypasts, drops and displays over Normandy. The Imperial War Museum airfield is open as normal with the activity providing a major additional attraction. (Images © US National Archives).
The formation of DC-3s / C-47s, hopefully around 38 examples in total, will be the largest airborne, piston-powered armada to grace the skies of Western Europe for some seven decades when the planes set-off from Duxford en masse on the afternoon of 5 June. Around 40 Spitfires and P-51 Mustang fighters will escort them across the Channel. The iconic transports will have parachutists on board, 250 men and women who will be wearing WWII-style Allied uniforms and jump onto a drop zone at Sannerville east of Caen using military round parachutes. Thereafter, about 17:30 hrs the aircraft will land at Caen-Carpiquet airport.
There will be no aerial activity on 6 June due to the national D-Day commemorations in Normandy but on Friday 7 and Saturday 8 June, Carpiquet will be open to the public with a display programme similar to that at Duxford. Thereafter, the Daks fly to Germany, overnighting at a couple of places en route to Berlin where they will make three flypasts, two over the city and another over Gatow airfield, now home to the Luftwaffe Museum.
A real bonus for Scottish enthusiasts unable to make either of the main events was that the North American contingent, around a dozen C-47s from the USA, transited through Prestwick en route to Duxford with the Ayrshire gathering open to the public on Friday 24 / Saturday 25 May.
During WW2, thousands of small to medium-sized military aircraft arrived on British soil at ports around the country having been transported on cargo ships. The `heavies`, as well as numerous other types, flew in from North America via Iceland and many passed through Prestwick Airport in Ayrshire, Scotland, before heading south, including no doubt numerous C-47s which went on to participate in Operation Overlord and other operations that followed as the Western Allies fought their way across Europe.
This Imperial War Museum photo shows the Transport Command Delivery Park on the Northeast Apron at Prestwick where planes were marshalled after being flown across the Atlantic. Among the types present are Consolidated Liberators, Douglas Dakotas, North American Mitchells, and Canadian-built Avro Lancaster B Mark Xs. Fittingly, this area was where the Daks were displayed.
Please bear in mind that all my images are subject to copyright. They are not free to use and have been embedded with a digital watermark.
Two C-47s act as permanent memorials at drop zones in Normandy, one, the SNAFU Special, at Merville Battery at the eastern end of the landing grounds which was assaulted by the British, and another at the American Airborne Museum at St Mere Eglise. I visited the D-Day sites last year and a large section containing further images, both my own and historical, along with background information can be viewed here.
Another large-scale gathering of WW2 aircraft commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day, although somewhat overshadowed by the C-47s, is L-Birds Back to Normandy. Running from 6-9 June, the event aims to bring together a record-breaking assembly of liaison aircraft used during the conflict, many wearing D-Day stripes. More than 60 Piper L-4s, Stinson L-5s and others are scheduled to attend, coming from all over Europe. An Aeronca L-3, Fairchild Argus, various Auster types, a Miles Messenger and Fieseler Storch are also expected. A commemorative flight over the Landing Grounds will be made on June 7th and on the afternoon of Sunday 9 June, weather permitting, seven of the aircraft will make a landing on UTAH Beach (above). Then, in July / August, as many as 100 Piper Cubs of all variants will come together at Granville aerodrome near Avranches.
This L-4J Grasshopper, so named due to its tendency to bounce on landing, is on display at the American Airborne Museum, Sainte-Mère-Eglise. The image from the US National Archives alongside clearly shows the portability of these small but valuable aircraft. It features a Grasshopper stowed on the back of a 2.5 ton CCKW truck in preparation for the D-Day landings and was taken at a depot in Devon, England, in early 1944.
The Grasshopper was developed from the British Taylorcraft Auster V and proved invaluable for artillery spotting and communications duties. The plane could operate from fields and roads, enabling it to keep up with a rapidly moving advance and its slow loiter speed allowed it`s pilot to report on the accuracy of an artillery strike real-time and radio-in any necessary adjustments. The main threat to these observation aircraft was from ground troops as the spotters`standard operating height was fairly low, a requirement to make them less visible to enemy fighters.
Left: Ground crew of No. 652 (Air Observation Post) Squadron RAF wheel a Taylorcraft Auster AOP Mark IV out of its blast pit at Cresserons, Normandy, for a sortie in support of I Corps operations. (Image © Imperial War Museum).
Beech King Air 200C N54F was the support aircraft for the North American contingent of the 75th Anniversary D-Day Squadron.
Next is a brief history of each of the vintage C-47 / DC-3s that passed through Prestwick and were present at the open day on Saturday 25 May...
"That`s All Brother" / N47TB
I had been hoping to photograph C-47A Skytrain serial number 42-92847 "That`s All Brother" which is one of the most historically significant aircraft taking part in proceedings, but I missed it as it landed at Prestwick about 15:40 hrs on Wednesday 22 May and left the following day. The aircraft, which has recently been painstakingly restored by the Commemorative Air Force (CAF), Central Texas Wing, rolled-off the production line at Oklahoma City in early March 1944 and transferred to Europe less than a month later, having been assigned to the 438th TCG (Troop Carrier Group) at Greenham Common. It`s name, emblazoned on the nose, is a message to Hitler that "Enough is enough!" On the evening of Monday 5 June, in fading light, That`s`s All`and other C-47s and C-53 Skytoopers set-off for Normandy, each with men of the 101st Airborne Division on board.
"That’s All Brother", with CO of the 438th Col John Munnerlyn Donalson (on the left in this WW2 image) at the controls, led ‘Mission Albany` (101st Airborne Division), which along with ‘Mission Boston’ (82nd Airborne Division), heralded the first phase of US Airborne operations. Paratroopers from the 101st and 82nd had been tasked with seizing the strategically important town's of Ste-Mere-Eglise and Ste-Marie-du-Mont as well as securing the bridges and causeways over the Douvre and Merderet rivers, essential to enable rapid progress inland when the ground forces landed at UTAH Beach.
"That’s All Brother" was hit by flack during the journey but fortunately not seriously damaged and disgorged its charges on Drop Zone A which was the closest of them all to UTAH. On the night of 6 June, the aircraft returned to Normandy, this time bringing in urgently needed reinforcements, artillery pieces and other equipment to the 82nd Airborne Division. (These image are all © The Commemorative Air Force).
I took the following shots at the US Airborne Museum in Normandy...
Like the vast majority of the transports, "That`s All Brother" survived the Normandy Invasion and went on to perform numerous missions, including resupply and casualty evacuation. The aircraft took part in ‘Operation Dragon’, dropping paratroopers during the invasion of the south of France, then flew during Operation Market Garden (Arnhem) and latterly made several supply sorties to aid the beleaguered defenders of Bastogne during the Ardennes Offensive, better known as the Battle of the Bulge. The aircraft’s last major contribution to the war effort was dropping paratroopers near Weser during ‘Operation Varisity’, the Crossing of the Rhine in late March 1944.
Placid Lassie / N74589
Like "That`s All Brother", Placid Lassie is a D-Day veteran. On Tuesday 6 June 1944, between 00:20 and 01:43 hrs, thirteen waves of C-47s in Operation Albany dropped pathfinders and troops aiming for three Landing Zones. Fourteen waves of C-47s in Boston dropped pathfinders and troops onto another three LZs between 01:21 and 02:44 hrs. A combination of factors meant that the drops were far from accurate and most troopers landed many miles from their intended destination. Meanwhile, back in England, Placid Lassie and the other designated tugs of the 74th TCS took-off from RAF Aldermaston at 02:00 hrs, each with a WACO glider in tow.
The landing area for the 74th`s gliders was LZ `Echo` along the road between Ste. Marie du-Mont and les Forges, about a mile inland from UTAH Beach. About half of the unit`s gliders landed with 2 miles of the LZ. The C-47s re-crossed the Channel and arrived back at base around 05:30 hrs. Placid Lassie returned to LZ E at 21:00 hrs bringing men, gasoline and other supplies, landing on a corrugated runway hastily constructed by combat engineers. One of the men on board, Ed Tunison, remembered that the sky was filled with numerous types of aircraft and he could see the battleship USS Texas offshore, firing salvos from its big guns, targeting enemy defences well inland. (The above shots were taken at the American Airborne Museum, St Mere-Eglise).
On the afternoon of Friday 24 May, Placid Lassie taxied around the northside apron for the benefit of the local media.
Virginia Ann / N62CC
Virginia Ann was another product of the Douglas Aircraft factory in Long Beach, California, and was delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force on September 21st, 1943. She was initially assigned to the 12th Air Force in January, 1944, but transferred to 59th Squadron of the 61st Troop Carrier Group in the 9th Air Force shortly thereafter. On D-Day, based at RAF Barkston Heath in England, Colonel Willis Mitchell chose Virginia Ann to lead the 61st TCG with her four squadrons totalling 72 C-47s. The squadrons were the 14th, 15th, 53rd and 59th all carrying elements of the 2nd Battalion, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) of the 82nd Airborne. Colonel Mitchell received the Purple Heart for injuries sustained during the early hours that morning.
Following the initial drops, Virginia Ann flew numerous resupply and CASEVAC missions. returning injured troops to the UK. The aircraft went on to participate in Operations Market Garden and dropped British paratroops during Operation Varsity. Following WWII, Virginia Ann became a civil transport. Mission Boston D-Day LLC, of Newport Beach, California have owned this historic aircraft since 2016, and she is presently painted in the same livery she wore back in June, 1944.
Right: British Paratroopers prepare to board C-47 Skytrain Virginia Ann of the 59th Troop Carrier Squadron, 61st Troop Carrier Group at Chipping Ongar, Essex. This airfield was also known as RAF Willingale. Although the image is undated, it was likely taken in late March 1945 with the men preparing to drop as part of `Operation Varsity`, the airborne crossing of the Rhine River. Chipping Ongar`s control tower is shown above. (Wartime images © Roger Freeman collection).
Rather than transport squadrons, the US 387th Bomb Group was the only American unit to be based there, flying B-26 Marauders in strategic missions over France, first for the Eighth and then for the Ninth Air Force after October 1943. The Group supported the invasion of Normandy in June 1944 and left Chipping Ongar in preparation for a move to France the following month.
D-Day Doll / N45366
D-Day Doll, serial number 42-68030, was built as a specialised paratroop variant of the C-47, the C-53 Skytrooper, which were used in vast numbers in the later stages of the war, particularly to tow gliders and drop paratroops. This particular aircraft was one of a batch of 159 of this type which, having been built at the Douglas factory in Santa Monica, California, was delivered to the United States Army Air Force on 7 July 1843. It was stationed at various locations in the US, then Welford Park in the UK prior to arriving at RAF Aldermaston in March 1944.
Given D-Day stripes and the code number 830, the Doll` was assigned to the 72nd Squadron (CU) of the 434th TCG. The Group`s mission was to tow gliders carrying reinforcements to the 101st Division which had dropped earlier. At 01:19 hrs on 6 June 1944, 52 of the Group`s planes, each towing a WACO glider, took off from RAF Aldermaston for Normandy. D-Day Doll flew three missions on the big day itself and three on the 7th. It also went to participate in Operation Market Garden in Holland, the re-supply of Bastogne and the Crossing of the Rhine. The aircraft had many civilian owners as an airliner and cargo transport following WWII. She has been owned by the Commemorative Air Force since 2001, and flies regularly at air shows in the western US with the CAF’s Inland Empire Wing from their home in Riverside, California.
Liberty / N25641
Although currently displayed in a civilian Legend Airways livery, Liberty is another D-Day veteran which, as C-47 42-32833, served with the 61st Troop Carrier Group and took off for Normandy from RAF Barkston Heath near Grantham, Lincolnshire, at 02.32 hrs on Tuesday 6 June 1944 to drop elements of the 82nd Airborne’s 2nd Battalion 507th PIR. During the mission she received numerous bullet holes which, work records show, needed patching.
Liberty had rolled out at Long Beach, on February 11th, 1943 and was initially stationed in Oran, Algeria, during the North Africa Campaign, arriving on August 17th, 1943. Following her involvement in Operation Overlord, she was transferred to the 8th Air Force for the remainder of the war and arrived back in the United States on August 17th, 1945, two years to the day from the time she first touched-down in the Algerian desert. She was decommissioned, sold into private hands and upgraded from military freighter to a corporate executive aircraft. She led a very pampered life, flying out of Shreveport, Louisiana, for nearly 25 years. After another quarter-century and five owners, Erik L. Fleming, President of the Fleming Corporation, purchased the historic aircraft.
In early 1993, after amassing 18,500 hours flight time, 42-32833 began a total restoration at Basler Turbo Conversions in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Completed in 1995, at a cost of nearly $2 million, she had undergone a major makeover, right down to her original classic 1940s / 1950s-style polished aluminium. The interior was gutted with the traditional spartan seating replaced by 14 large and very comfortable club-style chairs richly upholstered with fabric imported from Italy. The carpet was custom made in Spain, the cotton headliner was woven in France, and of course, the aircraft’s avionics and cockpit were upgraded as were the heating and air conditioning systems. The latest technology in soundproofing and insulation make her the quietest, most comfortable ‘DC-3’ ever to ride in. JB Air Services LLC of Brighton, Colorado, is the aircraft’s current custodian. Her life is now very relaxed, flying being limited to aircrew training, pleasure excursions, and the occasional air show appearance.
Betsy’s Biscuit Bomber / N47SJ
Betty`s Biscuit Bomber rolled off the Douglas Aircraft Company-Oklahoma City production line as C-47 serial number 43-48608 in April 1944, too late for the D-Day invasion.She was delivered to the USAAF in September of that year and thereafter it flew with the 9th Air Force, 302nd Air Transport Wing, 27th Air Transport Group for the remainder of World War II. This group first activated in the spring of 1943 at RAF Hendon, England, to provide air transportation services for the Eighth Air Force with elements coincidentally located at Prestwick Airport to act as a reception centre for the receipt of combat aircrews and aircraft arriving from the United States. The contingent at Heathrow Airport provided communications support for command headquarters, and also operated a passenger and freight operation at RAF Hendon. RAF Warton, Lancashire, and Portreath in Cornwall, were also involved in receiving replacement aircraft and dispatching them to combat units.
The `Biscuit Bomber was drafted in to drop paratroopers during Operation Market Garden and during The Battle of the Bulge. After the war she participated in the Berlin airlift and her efforts to feed the city`s starving population was the inspiration behind her name. She also served with the Belgian, French and was in 1967 was loaned to the Israeli Air Force.
In 1999, an aircraft collector bought a batch of C-47s including 43-48608 from the Israelis and relocated them to Canada. Betty`s Biscuit Bomber stopped at Malta then Aberdeen, Scotland, en route. The aircraft was subsequently brought back to the USA, where she has since received an extensive 3-year restoration returning her to airworthy condition. Betty`s Biscuit Bomber has what is probably the lowest total airframe time (under 10,000 hours) of any C-47 known to exist and, never having received a civilian conversion, she is one of the most authentic original C-47s currently flying. She is currently owned by the Gooney Bird Group in Templeton, California.
Pan American Airways Systems / N877MG
This aircraft began life as one of 300 C-47s built specifically for the China-Burma-India theatre of operations. Unique features include long-range fuel tanks and supercharged engines for improved performance and altitude. delivered to China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) in Calcutta, it supplied US armed forces and allied Nationalist Chinese from 1944 to 1945. CNAC was a joint venture between Pan American Airways and the Nationalist Chinese government and many of the carrier`s pilots had flown with the disbanded Flying Tigers. These pilots sought cloudy weather or flew at night to avoid Japanese fighter planes. From April 1942, when the Japanese closed the Burma Road, until August 1945, CNAC crews made more than 38,000 trips, transporting approximately 114,500 tons of both passengers and cargo. Post war CNAC continued its operations as the leading airline in mainland China.
In 1949, the Civil Air Transport (CAT) acquired CNAC and with the support of the State Department strived to keep the carrier`s aircraft out of the Chinese Communists` hands as both they and the Nationalist Chinese claimed ownership of 71 former CNAC planes. It took three years for British courts in Hong Kong to reach a decision and meanwhile, N877MG was the subject of an attack, apparently by a Nationalist agent, when an improvised explosive device exploded, blasting a hole in the starboard wing. The court eventually ruled in CAT`s favour and N877MG was shipped to the Grand Central Aircraft Company in California for conversion to a Super DC-3. Its new role as a VIP transport spanned five decades and saw many owners including the International Shoe Machine Company and Johnson & Johnson, a medical devices and pharmaceutical supplier. The Historic Flight Foundation (HFF) acquired N877MG in 2006, and soon after restoration began to recreate a Pan American DC-3 airliner from 1949, complete with the luxury interior enjoyed by corporate executives of the era.
Flabob Express / N103NA
Based at Flabob, California, the aptly named Flabob Express N103NA was delivered to the Royal Air Force on 20 May 1943 as Dakota serial number FD879. The aircraft was assigned to No.24 Squadron, a VIP transport unit based at Hendon, North London. RAF logbooks show that Winston Churchill and Princess Margaret were among the passengers carried. In July 1943, the aircraft was ferried to India where it was named Orion and served as General, later Field Marshall, Claude Auchinleck`s personal taxi. (Image below left © Imperial War Museum.
Miss Virginia / N47E
A product of the Douglas factory at Long Beach,, California, DC-3C Miss Virginia started life on 29 September 1943 as a C-47A bearing the military serial number 43-30665. She remained in the USA where she was used as a trainer for the remainder of the war, after which came a period with the National Guard in Oklahoma City. The aircraft eventually moved on to the U.S. Army proving ground as a test platform, remaining there until 1966 when it went into storage at Davis Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona.
Since being re-activated in May 1975 the aircraft has had several civilian operators, one of which was based in Bogota, Columbia. On return to the US in 1988 it was allocated the FAA registration N7043N. In April 1990, she was purchased by her current owners, Dynamic Aviation of Bridgewater, Virginia, and adapted as a pest control crop duster targeting mosquitoes and gypsy moths. She was retired 9 years later but restoration began in 2010 and following completion she was given her original colour scheme and current civilian identity but her original military serial is more prominent as was the norm at that time.